When you’re badly hearing-impaired and depend on hearing aids or cochlear implants to get through a world that’s not always considerate of your loss, it can be frustrating physically as well as mentally. There are many times when those of us afflicted with this hearing loss just want to remove our hearing aids or processors, sit back, and relax in blissful silence at the end of a long day.
I know first-hand the frustrations of listening fatigue whether I wore hearing aids or processors. I’ve been hearing-impaired since birth. I wore hearing aids from seventh to twelfth grades, hated them enough to leave them behind while at college, then wore new ones in my late 20s, only to stop using them, too, after a couple of years when my hearing deteriorated to the point that hearing aids no longer helped. Today marks one week since my cochlear implants were activated.
The physical part of listening fatigue
Hearing aids and cochlear implant processors aren’t always comfortable—and certainly not when you first receive them and are not yet used to the feel of them—no matter how “natural” manufacturers may try to make them.
In high school, the hearing aid molds gathered moisture during the school day and I remember having to adjust them fairly frequently. The molds of the hearing aids I wore as an adult were itchy. One day in December 2012 I took them out at work because they were bothering me so much, and despite putting them away in what I thought was a secure location, they disappeared completely and I caught hell from my parents for losing them.
The cochlear implant processors aren’t much better. I got them 2 weeks after my implantation surgery. You’d think I might still feel numb from the effects of the procedure and would hardly notice the presence of the processors, but no. It’s only been 7 days since activation; I’ve worked five 9-hour days in that time, and each day I’ve come home itching to put away the danged things for the night. It’s a physical relief to remove them at day’s end when I can anticipate the sweet freedom of my ears being in their natural, naked state.
Hearing aids and processors can leave impressions on your head, much like eyeglasses that are too tight can pinch the bridge of your nose. It hurts to lay my head on my pillow sometimes. Granted, I can probably blame other factors (such as the swelling around my ears that still hasn’t gone away three weeks post-operation) for that pain, but the unfamiliarity of wearing even a lightweight processor doesn’t help. The ear hooks on the processors cling to the upper shell of my ears, a rather unwelcome change after years of not wearing any hearing devices at all.
The mental side of listening fatigue
Since early in my high-school career I’ve often wondered how much better I could do academically if I didn’t have to spend so many brain cells just trying to figure out what other people are trying to tell me.
(Not that I was a poor student: on the contrary, I was in many advanced classes, the National Honor Society, and the top quarter of my graduating class. I earned scholarships to college. Still, it’s not like I was a contender for valedictorian, either).
Trying to copy down notes from the overhead projector in the late 1990s and early 2000s while simultaneously attempting to understand the accompanying commentary from my teachers and classmates was exhausting. My social life has suffered not only from my natural introversion (which intensified over the years as my hearing got worse) but also from not being able to hear people well. I’ve avoided situations that took place among crowds, preferring to stay at home and read, which wouldn’t tax my energies nearly as much.
Imagine trying to read really bad handwriting all the time, and you’ll get an inkling of what life is like for a severely-hearing-impaired person. It’s incredibly draining. You’d love to join your friends when they go see some improv at a comedy club…if only it came with the ability to effortlessly hear everything said.
Listening fatigue on the morale front
Frequently asking people to repeat themselves leaves me feeling sapped of confidence to keep up a conversation. Not to mention that it gets tiresome to wish you could hear like everyone else. On many occasions, I just plain give up trying to hear the world around me and I find myself retreating into my own little shell any time listening just gets to be too hard. Living with a hearing loss is very, very hard sometimes.
I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I’ve joined groups on Facebook that are devoted to hearing-impaired people, and I’ve noted that they, too, get listening fatigue from time to time. To the loved ones of those with hearing loss, I assure you that the person is not making up excuses when he/she begs off going to a party after work or doesn’t seem to be trying hard enough to hear you.
As much as I hate to utter these trite words, the struggle is real. Bear with us and love us, and understand that we simply don’t have it as easy as you do in this respect. Listening requires lots of hard work from us. Thanks for reading this post in an effort to better understand what your friend or family member with hearing loss endures.
About the author….
This blog post has been written in collaboration with Christine Dougherty.
Christine has been hearing-impaired since birth. Her hearing loss was discovered when her mom took her to the doctor as a toddler and told him, “You know, she’s just not talking right.” Christine received her first hearing aids in junior high and the second pair about 15 years later and recently received the Cochlear implant. She is therefore very familiar with listening fatigue, suffering from it even before she was familiar with the term. You can read more by Christine on her blog: bestofchristinedougherty.com